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The Minimalist Guide to Saving Money

Simplifying starts with tentative baby steps. Your first step is always the hardest. However, after you get started you’ll be off and running in no time.

For example, at the beginning of 2008 Logan and I sat down and decided we were going to live a minimal, debt free life. Writing down our goals was one way we paid off our debt quickly. We also implemented a number of money saving strategies into our routine.

Below are 51, simple, micro-actions you can use to spend less and save more. Some of the tips are really easy to implement, while others might take more effort.

1. Live within your means. Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford. This probably sounds like cliché advice, but how many people do you know that charge stuff on their credit cards all the time? Know the true expense of items by converting the price of stuff into your labor cost to earn it.

2. Stop trying to impress and please other people.

3. Unplug from stuff.

4. Take care of your stuff.

5. Cut your own hair or have your partner do it. Do you really need to spend $50 on a hair cut, or can you do it yourself?

6. Plan in advance. Planning drastically reduces the dreaded impulse buyer regret. For instance, make lists before you go grocery shopping and research the best deals for things like clothing and food.

7. Research value, quality durability, and the price of products.

8. Sell your car.

9. Don’t purchase cosmetics, wear minimal make-up, and use a straight razor.

10. Barter and share your stuff.

11. Decrease your housing costs. If you’re paying an excessive amount to “own” or rent, take some time to evaluate the value of your location and the space you use.

12. Learn about minimalist home cooking.

13. Embrace the idea of a staycation.

14. Say no to Cable TV.

15. Sell your smartphone and use Skype or switch to an inexpensive prepaid cell phone plan.

16. Be a proud “cheapskate.”

17. Take advantage of My Kids Eat Free.

18. Use the free-cycle network.

19. Grow your own vegetables.

20. Take public transit, rather than driving.

21. Car-pool.

22. Look for good deals on car insurance.

23. Buy local food. Healthy, organic, and fair trade foods can be very expensive in stores. To obtain this great food inexpensively look for a local farmer’s market to save money. Farmer’s markets allow you to purchase directly from the producer without the overhead cost of brick and mortar store fronts. This type of wholesome food can improve your health and reduce nutritional-related disease costs.

24. Don’t buy toxic cleaning supplies. Use baking soda or vinegar instead.

25. Ditch your gym membership and go for a daily walk, run, or bike ride.

26. Move closer to your place of employment.

27. Save gas money by telecommuting at least one day a week.

28. Create your own minimal business.

29. Repair or make your clothes.

30. Re-use and recycle.

31. Compost!

32. Rather than heading to a cafe, make your coffee at home.

33. Watch less television and reduce your exposure to advertising.

34. Invite your friends and family over for dinner, rather than going out to eat.

35. Make your own unique holiday and birthday gifts.

36. Get your books from the local library.

37. Pay in cash and don’t use credit cards.

38. Volunteering is an excellent way to give back to your community and a way to meet new friends.

39. Give yourself 30 days to think about a purchase before you buy the item.

40. Go through your clothes and learn how to dress minimally.

41. Buy food in bulk.

42. Make use of your crock pot to pre-cook lunches.

43. Reduce your meat consumption.

44. Brew your own beer or make your own wine.

45. Cut back on unnecessary magazine subscriptions and live simply with the help of blogs.

46. Do it yourself. For example, can you learn to perform basic home maintenance?

47. Check out your local community calendar for free, family friendly events to attend.

48. Read Your Money or Your Life. If you want to understand more about finance and money management, consider checking this book out from the library. Why am I advocating that you read this book? Economic uncertainty, layoff’s and other world events have many people stressed out about money, how to spend it, save it and invest it. This book lays out simple steps that will help you gain a better understanding of money.

49. Before you buy anything, ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • Did I receive fulfillment, satisfaction and value in proportion to life energy spent?
  • Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
  • How might this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work for a living. What expenses would increase, decrease or disappear if I didn’t go to work everyday?

Note: The questions above are from Your Money or Your Life.

50. If you’re struggling with your finances ask for help.

51. And don’t forget to have fun!

With gratitude,

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Katie July 14, 2010, 8:26 am

    Great list and terrific resources, Tammy. Thanks for continually helping me get my minimalist groove on.

    • Tammy July 14, 2010, 6:01 pm

      Yay! Thanks Katie. 🙂

  • Condo Blues July 14, 2010, 8:32 am

    Learning to cook saves me a lot of money because I now cook from scratch. I also know what’s in my food because I made it and I eat a lot healthier on the cheap.

    • Tammy July 14, 2010, 6:02 pm

      @Condo – I’m with you there. Last year, I ate out a lot and spent an incredible amount of money. Now we eat in (most of the time), have saved money, and have had a lot of fun cooking too. 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

  • Sarita Li Johnson July 14, 2010, 8:35 am

    Great post, Tammy!

    I love how this touches on every aspect of life, not just a couple of penny-saving tips. Hooray for simple living!

    Regarding #29, Repair/Sew your own clothes and #30, Re-use and recycle, I’m working on teaching those things at thelandlockedsailor.com Check it out!

    • Tammy July 14, 2010, 6:02 pm

      @Sarita – sweet! I’ll check out your site. It sounds awesome.

  • Jan July 14, 2010, 8:39 am

    I totally agree with Katie, this is definitely the ultimate list.

    I personally like 28, book by Everett Bogue gave me a lot of inspiration.
    Interested in 48, I have seen other minimalist friends talking about this book on Twitter, so I am gonna try the book.

    Thanks Tammy for the article and keep up the great job!

    • Tammy July 14, 2010, 6:04 pm

      @Jan – Thank you! Everett has a few really kick ass, inspiring books. Your Money or Your Life is a must read as well. It literally changed my life. 🙂

  • Lynn Fang July 14, 2010, 8:58 am

    Awesome list! I’m doing a lot of what’s listed, but my #1 issue is clutter. I’m horrible with organizing and de-cluttering. I’m much slower now to make new purchases, so that helps with the inflow of stuff, but I’m still working on some kind of de-cluttering system. Same as Katie, thanks for helping me get my minimalist groove on. =]

    • Tammy July 14, 2010, 6:06 pm

      @Lynn – Thank you. 🙂 Hmmm – why don’t you check out my column at Rented Spaces? http://www.rentedspaces.com/bloggers/tammy-strobel

      I’ve written a number of posts on decluttering. Maybe that will help? 🙂

    • Valerie July 14, 2010, 7:24 pm

      Have you checked out the website flylady.net to help you with decluttering?

  • Lisa July 14, 2010, 9:44 am

    Great list! As a “no ‘poo” fan of long standing, I might also suggest that people give up shampoo, creme rinses, hair spray, gels, and all other sorts of chemical laden hair products. Wash with plain water or use baking soda or apple cider vinegar if needed. Your hair and your wallet will thank you for it.

  • Catherine Chandler July 14, 2010, 9:47 am

    One thing I’ve been asking myself recently when it comes to purchasing things is “which do I want more…the product or the money?”. Money usually wins.

  • Dawn July 14, 2010, 10:45 am

    Hey Tammy,
    I love the comprehensive-ness of this list! A lot of these things my family and I are already doing or are in the process of implimenting. I would only add “Have a Wishlist” to the financial aspect of the list. I have three lists that I keep in a journal a la FlyLady.com’s Control Journal to help me and my husband with our finances. One is what we owe or pay each month on bills/layaway. Another is a list for my 30-day list of things. And the last is a wishlist.

    Because of the way I set it up I write down when I saw an item I wanted (unless it is food in which I give myself two hours if it is a craving while feeding my body something healthier and similar if I am truely hungry in order to decide if it is something my body is simply wanting due to addiction or if it is something that has nutrients in it that my body needs. i.e. having an apple with lunch when I am searching for candy during lunch. Usually it is just an addiction and not a need) as well as what the item is and how much it costs. If the item is still on my mind 30 days from the date I wrote down I then decide if we can afford it and/or need it or if it can wait until we save up for it. If it needs saving up for (like a baby bike seat and a step through bicycle) then it goes on the wishlist. The wishlist is facing the bills section of my journal so that I can really think hard about how I will save up for it.

    I’m hoping this will eventually curb my husband’s love of layaway and my own love of the impulse buy. With a little one due in less than a month I know that I want to instill a vast number of things on your list in her so that she won’t have to deal with the financial debt her dad and I did when we first moved out together. In fact, the only way we have gotten out of debt even the tiny bit we have is because my car has been hit twice and we used the excess insurance money to pay of debt (my dad is a mechanic so he puts the part on for me for free and we save on labor, paint, and dent fixing).

    Good luck and thanks for the list!

  • Dawn July 14, 2010, 10:48 am

    P.S. I tried the no-poo method and it dried my hair out immensly. Just a tip for those of you trying it-since it was mentioned by Lisa-mes with the PH balance a ton. There are a few areas that I feel need to be worked on when it comes to saving money (ie-making sure that saving money isn’t at the detriment of your health) and those are hair, teeth, skin, and food/exercise. Just my own tidbit.

    • Tammy July 14, 2010, 6:14 pm

      @Dawn – great points. Taking care of your health is super important. And neglecting your health to save money isn’t a good idea.

      Ohhhh and I can’t believe the little one will be here in a month! Congratulations. 🙂

  • Russ at AirCut July 14, 2010, 11:09 am

    Tammy, I couldn’t agree more with #5 cutting your own hair! About a year ago I starting working for a company which sells a vacuum haircutter called the AirCut, and I have been using it ever since. Sure, I work for the company, so I’m biased. But our product DOES save people money and it DOES work. Check us out and I’d love to hear from your readers. Thanks for listening Tammy and great article!

  • buzz July 14, 2010, 11:34 am

    Nice list, Tammy. I would add:

    -Know your grocery prices and stock up when items are on sale
    -If you reduce your driving, see if you are eligible for a low-mileage discount on your insurance
    -Save sales tax and transportation expense by buying online
    -Sign up for paperless statements and pay bills online
    -I use my credit card for everything for the cash rewards

    • Tammy July 14, 2010, 6:15 pm

      @Buzz – awesome additions. Thanks for chiming in. 🙂

  • David Grove July 14, 2010, 12:12 pm

    Motivation is key. Why do I want to save money ? Because saving money buys freedom. Freedom from debt, anxiety and many other pressures. When we value personal freedom above stuff it becomes easier (and more fun) to apply your 51 tips. I esspecialy like the idea of equating price with labour time.

  • Amanda July 14, 2010, 6:36 pm

    What a wonderful thought: “Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?”

    Thank you for such a great list of tips!

    <3 Amanda

    • Tammy July 15, 2010, 5:50 am

      Thanks for reading Amanda! I really appreciate it. 🙂

  • Willow July 14, 2010, 8:27 pm

    I used to keep a price book of basic food and cleaning items I purchased so I could tell when an item was on sale or had gone up in price. Now that we buy most of our food at the farmers market, we don’t need as comprehensive a list. But it’s still a good idea to know the ‘usual’ price of things. Also, always pay attention to prices and items rung up at the cash register. Cashiers make mistakes and they’re seldom in the buyer’s favor.

    I agree with Dawn that if you’re going to spend money, it should be on your health–regular teeth cleaning and both dental and physical check ups. I’ve heard the comment, “Only floss the teeth you intend to keep.”

  • Eric Normand July 15, 2010, 1:19 am

    Tammy, this is a good list. Here are my humble yet awesome additions/comments.

    1. I don’t know if brewing your own beer is cheaper. It’s kind of expensive (equipment and supplies) and prone to errors. Though it’s a great hobby.
    2. When vacationing, consider couch surfing. It’s a great way to meet new people and it’s basically free.
    3. Consider a dinner exchange. One day a week, you cook dinner for friends, or they cook for you. Nothing fancy, just make twice as much as you would have made. It saves time and gets you social time.
    4. For cheap, easy cooking, nothing beats the crockpot. Please check out my article on the subject http://www.renegadeyogi.com/better-living/eat-homecooked-every-day-for-less-than-5-minutes-per-meal/

    Check you later

  • Eric Normand July 15, 2010, 1:50 am

    Here’s another one:

    Stop buying decongestants/allergy medication and start using a neti pot. It’s so effective.

    • Tammy July 15, 2010, 6:03 am

      Eric – I loved your list. They are fantastic additions!

      Equipment to brew beer can be really expensive. However, it is possible to get super cheap equipment on ebay. My neighbor in Sac spend a few months searching for great deals and was really happy with the result: cheap beer. I also think it depends on how much you drink / entertain. 🙂

      Loved the idea of a neti pot. I’ve heard they are super awesome.

      And couch surfing is a fantastic resource. I’ve met some incredible folks through that network. http://www.couchsurfing.org/

  • Understanding Alice July 15, 2010, 2:33 am

    how about: make a pact with your family over Christmas – decide that everyone is going to give token presents rather than expensive ones – perhaps even set a maximum price per person and get your kids to be creative in what they buy for the money. Or just make and give cake for christmas, or give “vouchers” like “I promise one home cooked meal” or “i promise three nights babysitting” etc.

    • Tammy July 15, 2010, 6:05 am

      @Alice – great thoughts. On my side of the family we don’t exchange gifts anymore. However, we always bring each other yummy treats like, cookies or a good bottle of wine. It’s so nice not to get so much “stuff” on Christmas. 🙂

  • Leigh July 15, 2010, 6:43 am

    Tammy, this is an amazing and comprehensive list. I would expand on #47 to mention that lots of great museums (like LACMA and the Getty here in LA) offer terrific benefits to members and membership can be a relatively small amount. Free tickets to new shows, guest privileges, free entry at all times, and often reciprocal membership to other museums in case you’re traveling, etc. My husband and I use our membership ALL the time- it’s one of our favorite activities. Cheers-

  • benjamin bankruptcy July 15, 2010, 7:09 pm

    I think i’ll print this off and work through it. I’m a noob need all the help i can get. PS (tammy I rode to work 4 days this week, next week it’ll be 5 and then a month and then good bye car)

  • Stanley Lee July 16, 2010, 9:26 am

    That’s a lot of tips…thanks!

  • John Sherry July 21, 2010, 12:14 pm

    Tammy, wow, what a corking post. What is does save (as well as money) is time to find all these amazing tips on saving money. They are all top notch but No.1 on the list is No.1 overall….live within your means. That says it all and will do for me. Damn, got to ditch the weekends in Rio! Ho hum.

  • Krista July 27, 2010, 4:59 pm

    These are all great tips…
    However I don’t completely agree with the credit cards tip. Ideally, it’s great. But I think if you don’t let it get out of control (I try to use mine about once a month for groceries) it builds up a good credit rating. Which can’t hurt 🙂

  • ceilidth August 8, 2010, 11:53 am

    This may sound goofy, but one big–no pun intended–change I made was to lose the weight I gained in my forties and keep it off. Hard, yes; impossible, no. During the time I was gaining weight, I kept changing sizes (went from an 8/10 to a 16) and kept needing to buy new clothes. When I reached my maximum weight and finally realized that I needed to do something about it, I went through an initial weight loss and began to donate all my too big and too small clothes. My rule, since, is to never keep anything that is too big and anything that is more than slightly too small. Since my weight is now pretty stable, I can actually wear clothes out! During my forties most of my clothes only lasted a year or two because I kept outgrowing them. Now, when I take out my summer or winter things, it’s like renewing old friendships. I look forward to seeing my out of season clothes, knowing that they will fit me and I will look good in them. The point from a budgetary perspective is not so much how much I now weigh but that with a stable weight I’m don’t need to shop as much.

  • carolyn August 10, 2010, 7:26 am

    I’ve just found your website. These are amazing tips. My teenage daughter and I are doing a series of 21 day projects…right now we are doing a vegan cleanse, next up is 21 changes for the environment. I’d like to do a simplicity series as well. The idea is to make the hard changes and stick with them for 21 days then see what you can/will do for the long run. We are almost done the cleanse and I’ve discovered so many positives about being vegan that I am definitely sticking with it 🙂
    Oh and I’m downloading your firstr bood as we speak. Thanks again!


  • Will August 14, 2010, 3:01 pm

    I just recently moved back to Miami, FL (one of the most massive consumer driven cities in the world), and I am attempting to live minimalist lifestyle. My roommate is very similar, except for the tv aspect ( I didn’t want a tv, and no cable if we did have one). We live in a 2/1.5 apartment, on south beach, and work at the same school; therefore, we’ll be carpooling to work often. We plan on cooking every morning and night (leftovers=lunch), and plan on brewing our own beer pretty soon! I recently rearranged my clothes to fit a minimalist and as organic as possible style (depending on the cost of the organic clothes), and feel pretty damn good about my quantity (all my clothes, towels (3 small), and shoes can fit in my large duffel!). We walk to the grocery, bars, and the beach for exercise, so that decreases our car use by a lot; however, I have soccer practice and games twice a week which is a 20 min drive…oops. I plan on recording my saving progress throughout the next 9 months, and hope to have an array of meals on the drawing board in the kitchen. I also hope to purchase a bike soon and see what it’s like riding to work (Miami is super hot right now!).
    This was my first time reading this blog and love it.


  • Jen H August 24, 2010, 12:52 pm

    When you do need to buy something, check out Goodwill and other thrift stores. I have saved so much money over the years getting almost all of my clothes, household items and furniture from thrift stores. 🙂 Oh, and garage and yard sales.